Friday, January 19, 2018

Bookshops Around the World: Argentina (Buenos Aires)

Before taking over Mostly Books, Sarah took time out from her regular routine to travel the world for a year.  During parts of 2014 & 2015, she travelled through 14 countries, primarily in South East Asia and South America, which gave her the opportunity to relax and prepare for her career change.  

During her travels, Sarah spent a lot of time searching for inspiration by hunting down bookshops in the places that she visited.  These ranged from a beautiful, converted theatre in Buenos Aires to endless numbers of bookstalls covering the streets of Yangon in Myanmar.  Each and every one helped Sarah to shape her thoughts on what she wanted to create in her own bookshop and all have a special place in her heart.

Over the next few weeks, Sarah will be sharing her memories of these shops and photos that she took during her travels.  We hope that you enjoy them.
This week it's Buenos Aires in Argentina.

Argentina was the last country on my trip so, when I arrived in Buenos Aires, my mind was already full of thoughts about what life would be like back in the UK.  Although I still had the best part of a month before heading home, it was inevitable that my mind would move in that direction.

I found out about El Ateneo Grand Splendid from a girl staying at my hostel.  I mentioned that I was hunting down bookshops on my travels and she told me that she had been to El Ateneo earlier that day.   When I looked it up and realised that the shop was housed in an old theatre, I knew that I had to visit.  Unfortunately, I was out of time as I was heading to Patagonia the following day so I noted the details down and left it as a place to visit when I returned to Buenos Aires.  I knew that, when I returned, it would only be a matter of days before I flew back to the UK so it seemed a fitting to end my journey to see such an amazing bookshop.

Fast forward three weeks and I was back in the city and on a bookshop hunt!  When I arrived at the entrance to El Ateneo, I
was greeted with an impressive entrance flanked by two columns.  The first part of the shop was fairly standard, lots of shelving, normal height ceilings and plenty of floor displays but, as I moved into the shop, the former theatre opened in front of me to display a huge number of books in an atrium three stories high.

I was completely bowled over by the beautiful sweeping shelves holding thousands of books.  They were surrounded on three sides by ornate balconies which housed even more books.  Where the stage had previously been, now sat a coffee shop where I went and enjoyed a drink whilst taking the whole place in.

In its heyday, the theatre had welcomed some of the most famous tango dancers in the world and, in a nod to the previous owners' love of cinema, had shown silent films accompanied by amazing displays of tango.  Sitting there and taking it all in, I could just imagine the drama of such performances in this beautiful space.

I don't know how long I spent in Al Ateneo, but it was hours, rather than minutes.  I explored all the floors and balconies, seeing how everything was arranged and what tricks were used to display things well.  The whole place was awe inspiring and I would encourage anyone who finds themselves in Buenos Aires to drop in for a visit.

In a complete contrast, on my penultimate day of my travels, I went in search of a more low-key bookshop that I had heard good things about.  Libros Del Pasaje was situated in a residential neighbourhood and was clearly a working bookshop.  When I entered the shop, I was greeted with floor to ceiling dark wood shelves with (yay!) a ladder on wheels that gave access to the higher shelves (I would love one of those!).  

The display tables were on trolley wheels and were packed into the narrow shop making it feel busy but well organised.  The children's area had a gorgeous little table and some mini chairs for the little ones to enjoy their books (sound familiar?!) and the cafe was housed in a beautiful conservatory and served cold meats and cheese. 

The contrast of the two shops was significant but they were both amazing in their own ways.  I left Buenos Airies completely inspired and ready to start my book adventure back  in the UK.

If you are interested in seeing more about Sarah's experiences in Argentina, you can head to her blog posts on the country which start here.  There are more pictures of the Buenos Aires Bookshops on our Facebook page here and, as always, feel free to pop into the shop for a chat about all things travel.  Sarah is a huge fan of exploring all parts of the world and will happily chat about it with anyone.

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